Thank you so much for taking time to answer questions for us today. We appreciate the time you spend not only writing books to entertain, but also the years you’ve spent serving our country. Thank you!
Melissa: You have spent many years in active duty and the reserves. Tell us a little bit about how you spent your time in both the Air Force and Marines.
Steven: I joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1979. Aside from the Iranian Hostage Crisis, there wasn’t a whole lot going on at that time, although the threat was imminent. As brand-new Marines, we waited for news of what would happen next on a daily basis. Things were tense, but for 19 year old members of the military, we took it in stride.
My Marine Corps service ended shortly after the birth of our first son. I experienced a 20 year break in service, but after the events of 9/11 transpired and all that has entailed, I wasn’t satisfied with sitting on the sidelines, so in 2005 I enlisted in the Air Force Reserve. To say that they have kept me busy would be an understatement.
Let me clarify something. A lot of people say that we’re ‘just Reservists’, as if we don’t experience family separations, heartaches, or worse. That’s not the case, and a very large percentage of our deployed military members make up the Guard and Reserve. Let me also give a plug to the U.S. Coast Guard. Some of the finest people I’ve served with (in the desert, oddly enough) have been Coasties.
Melissa: What have been some of your favorite parts about serving in the military as well as the ones you’re happy to leave behind?
Steven: Camaraderie would be at the top of the list, in terms of happy memories. I’m in the Air Force Reserve at present, and that branch of the military has gotten me much more involved in temporary duty and deployments. Even with mortars falling out of the sky around us, we knew that doing our job (handling cargo) was important, providing much-needed supplies and materiel to our war-fighters down-range. In that respect, we were helping to save lives–and deprive the enemy of theirs.
Many of those I’ve served with have retired or left service. It’s bittersweet, but every story has an ending. My own retirement isn’t far off, and I certainly won’t miss the ‘social engineering’ that’s being pushed down from the top. Since I’m still in uniform, I probably shouldn’t say any more than that, so I’ll stop right there.
Melissa: You’ve spent some time in an area of the world I have always wanted to visit—the former Soviet Union. Tell us about your experiences there. What is your impression of this area? Favorite part? Best experiences?
Steven: I could write a book covering that subject. Oh, wait, I DID write a book on that…
Seriously, the Russian Federation and the nations within their sphere of influence are vastly intriguing. Spy versus spy, thick Slavic accents, the cold looks given to foreigners (particularly Westerners) are all very real.
Most of my time there was spent doing short-term mission work. Passing out Bibles, sharing testimonies, providing practical assistance (like church-planting and construction), and the like. We participated in city-wide evangelistic crusades and just tried to encourage believers there.
The people in that part of the world still suffer from communism’s effects. We were taken to an orphanage where young children lived, survivors of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. It was heart-breaking to see these kids with bandages, on crutches, in wheelchairs, knowing that many of them (if not most) wouldn’t live to adulthood. The Ukrainian city of Pripyat is a ghost town today, and chronic illnesses have affected a large percentage of the population in that region.
My first trip to the former Soviet Union began in Moscow, and we traveled by train to the eastern part of Ukraine, where the Russian military has now taken over. Back then (1993 and 1995), when we reached the border, it was like something from a Bond film–a late night crossing; searchlights on steel girders, stretching across the train tracks; militia officers with guard dogs, asking for our papers and passports. Very intimidating.
I have the very real suspicion that we were being watched the whole time. Americans with Bibles had invaded that Godless land, and the authorities were not too happy. Once, after an evening service at the ‘dom moltvy’ the house of prayer, a stranger approached us with a manila envelope. He handed it to me without saying a word, with just a smile on his face. Inside were black and white glossies of our group mingling with ‘repenters’ (their word for parishioners) after the morning service. This man then turned on his heel and left. At the time, I wasn’t sure what that was all about, but as I’ve relayed the story to others, it has been strongly suggested that this stranger was a representative of the State security service dispatched to report on our activities. The photos were given to us to let us know that Ivan was keeping tabs.
The Christians in that part of the world have suffered for their faith, and their love and sacrifice stand as a testament to their commitment. They can be a somber people, but they crave peace and happiness. The expressions on their faces, hunger for the Gospel, when here in America we’re teetering on the edge of seeing all public expressions of faith squashed.
We attended a pot-luck in one of the villages, and at one point, the pastor who was our host told us that we laughed too much. Imagine a place where believers are guarded, and temper their behavior by hiding their joy. I would love to revisit that village today and see if anything has changed.
Melissa: The former Soviet Union obviously still faces some difficulties. What are some things the average American can do to help this area of the world?
Steven: You can pray. Pray for God’s power to insulate and protect believers there, and pray that fresh conviction would fall on those riding the fence about making a decision for Christ.
Melissa: In addition to being a veteran, you’re also a writer. On your website, you write that your Michael Neill’s series, “explores the dynamics of faith in uniform.” Could you share with us some of the dynamics of faith you have experienced while serving?
Steven: Brotherhood is closely related to camaraderie, and that dynamic is very real in the armed forces, and I’ve experienced that in ways not seen in my civilian profession. As mentioned, most of my experiences in former Soviet-bloc nations has been spent sharing the Gospel, but there have been times when I transited the area in uniform, and I’d rather not talk about that.
Melissa: Unlike when our soldiers returned from Vietnam, Americans today seem to have more awareness and sensitivity for veterans. What have people done or said that you’ve really appreciated and how can we best thank those who have served?
Steven: It’s the little things, really. A smile and a handshake at the airport, applause as we step off a plane. Care packages in deployed locations. It’s common for people to pay for a meal when we’re in a restaurant, and that means a lot, too. But that’s not what service members are looking for. We do it to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Please continue to pray for our military. They need our support, and lifting them up to the Father means an awful lot–especially when you’re far from home and family. I try to convey that in the Michael Neill series, with accurate depictions of our men and women in uniform and the challenges they face, along with the sacrifices they make for the rest of America.
To find out more about Steve and his books, visit his website or connect with him through FaceBook.